Hey Friends!! Now that I have your attention with a cute Scandinavian sex symbol holding a puppy, let's get on with the show!
Last I wrote, Ville and I were holed up in Keszthely, Hungary on the western shore of Lake Balaton just in time for all the tourists to head home. It was awesome! Our ride south from the Lake towards the border of Croatia was gorgeous. Oscillating hills, really green countryside, and always the occasional small town or village to ride through to get food and snacks. Traffic was kind and manageable. Once we crossed the boarder into Croatia, there was absolutely no difference other than I got a stamp in my passport on the way in because, although part of the EU, Croatia is not a part of the Schengen Zone. And we found this insanely cute puppy at a hotel near the boarder Ville named Davor Suker (one of the best Croatian soccer players). He would name a dog after a football player.
The ride to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, was really pleasant, only gradually became more mountainous. Zagreb was absolutely nothing to write home about, one of the more boring capitols after going to Prague and Budapest. Even though most of the Baltic Countries had atrocious roads, they all miraculously had decent bike paths that wove through their capitols. Not Zagreb, horrific highway into the City with no shoulder and no bike lanes. After leaving, we had a plan to head southwest towards the coast just narrowly brushing the boarder of Slovenia, but not crossing over. As we neared the coast, we began to climb. Climb and climb and climb some of the steepest graded roads since Guatemala and Slovakia. And of course is started pouring rain and we were soaked by the time we made it to the top of our climb in the Dinaric Alps and luckily a roadside motel with a vacant room.
The following day we had a big drop before climbing again over the next range, on small back roads with very little traffic. Possibly because the grades were 8-15% and no cars wanted to chug up them, but at least it was scenic. Large pondorosa pines mixed in with an array of deciduous trees and towering dark grey rock. By the end of the day we made it over the last climb and had our first expansive view of the Adriatic Sea. The drop down to the coast would have been a little more fun and less stressful if the road wasn't 15% graded on the downhill and we had to stop to cool the brakes a few times while giving our hands a rest from gripping the handlebars and brakes so tightly. More cute little European towns perched in the hillside we streaked past on our speedy decent into Rijeka.
Rijeka is the principal port town of Croatia, and on the northern coast tucked inside a large inlet looking out on a few large islands reachable by ferry. We rented an apartment a couple nights and wandered around the "old town" and ate far too many pastries. On the following day when we planned to get back on the road, I woke up to my neck completely locked up and Ville found me a savior; a chiropractor who would see me just as a walk-in. After cracking and popping me back into place, we headed northwest along the coastline, turning out to be one of the nicest stretches of road we have biked so far on this trip! The road wound right along the waters edge, passing through a handful of touristy towns full of pastries, gellato and overrun with German tourists. So much so that we saw more German license plates than Croatian ones cycling through the country. We dubbed Croatia, "Little Germany."
After stopping to swim in the crystal clear ocean somewhere along the way, we changed and biked around the point to Brsec; a tiny village perched up on the cliffs looking northeast back at Rijeka and the islands. Scoring a great deal on an apartment in the off-season, we booked a couple nights and the couple who owned the place were cyclists who were nice enough to let us use their private beach, lent us snorkeling gear and a kayak! It was one of our favorite days spent out of the saddle relaxing, snorkeling with thousands of colorful fish and soaking up some sun. The next morning we road down to Brestova where we caught the ferry full of German RVs to the island of Cres. As soon as all the RVs unloaded and took off, we had the whole road to ourselves for the long climb up and away from the shore to the spine of the island. We had some stunning 360 degree views of the islands and sea on both sides and made our way to a hidden point overlooking the next ferry terminal in a sheep pasture to camp.
Both Ville and I love to camp. However, cycling through Eastern Europe has posed a lot less easy to camp as it was in the Ride through the Americas. Mexico south was less developed and people were so kind and open to us for camping on their properties, churches, rodeo grounds, etc. Our experiences on this journey have taken us through a much more developed part of the world, much of Eastern Europe is in the European Union. We observed that where people have more, nice houses, cars and toys, they feel that they have more to lose. They are less interested in talking to us, learning about adventuring by bike, and sharing their yard. It was our same experience biking through the United States. Made us miss biking through Mexico and Latin American countries.
It looked like we had just a short distance to the ferry in the morning, however, it was actually on a very steep goat trail littered with giant boulders and was a bit shady to ascend. Once we made it to Merag, we took the half-hour ferry to Krk Island where we waited and caught the next hour and a half ferry to Rab Island. Just for fun, those of you following this on a map, email me what you think the island of Rab looks like (email@example.com) or write it in the comments below. Those of you that do, I will mail you a We Lost The Map sticker. :)
On the ferry we met a super nice guy, Mark, who is a gym teacher from Switzerland on a sabbatical touring by bike also. When we arrived on Rab, we all biked together to the town of Rab and had lunch. Mark rode on to find some camping and we found a place to stay in Rab so we could wander around the small historic town and check it out. Wandering the small narrow walkways of Rab was very reminiscent of small villages in Italy. We understood why it was packed with tourists and because of that, expensive. That night in Rab, there was a good band that played on a big stage erected in the town's square. The next morning at breakfast, we recognized the musicians from the band all staying at our hotel and had a good chat before heading out. From there we rode south on the island to the southern tip, Misnjak, where we caught another ferry to Stinica on the mainland. From there we climbed up to the coastal road, E65, and rode south.
The E65 road south along the coast was another big highlight of this ride. Stunning views similar to the infamous Highway 1 south of San Francisco, but with almost none of the traffic, save for those pesky Germans (just teasing, we love the Germans). We stopped for the night in Karlobag and scored a cheap night in a really nice hotel, dinner and breakfast included, even with an oceanfront room and balcony! Off season in Croatia is the way to go. The kid at the desk organized a driver to pick us up the next day and drive us with our bikes 10 miles up the hill so we could go on a long hike in the hills and ride back down to town. Well, that was the plan anyways. What actually happened is the bean bag chair that showed up in a clown car to pick us up was shocked that our bikes were "full sized." When he put his hands out about 3-4 feet apart demonstrating the size he thought our bikes were, I wanted to ask him if that was the size of his bike at home. OH, so you have a kids tricycle at home do you sir? Ah, what is lost in translation I guess. So we bagged the ride and climbed on the bikes minus bags and rode up the hill anyways and just had a much shorter hike once we got up there. The views were still spectacular and the ride down a total blast.
From Karlobag, we had a scenic ride all the way down to Seline where we got a hotel room to park the bikes and took a day off to hike up into the Mala Paklenica National Park, well known around the climbing world. Of course that day a major weather front pushed in and the wind was howling and making whitecaps on a normally glassy ocean. Hiking was still a blast although by the time we made our way down the really steep switchbacks of a side trail, it was raining and we were grateful to have a nice hot shower to make it back to instead of the tent. On the TV, we noticed there was a big bike race airing live, similar to the Tour de France, but in Croatia called CroRace. Ville looked up the route and turns out they were about 15 miles away from us heading south down the coast. The next day, as we rode south, opting to bypass Zadar and make our way on back-roads back to the coastal road, we passed a giant Astana (World Tour Cycling Team) bus followed by a van loaded with bikes and the driver honked at us while the team waved and cheered for us as we passed them. It was pretty cool!
That night we made our way to Sibenik, another cool Itialian-esk village on the coast with cobblestone streets and narrow walkways. We stayed only the night and then rode south, opting to climb up into the hills with a bunch of little villages and grapevines everywhere instead of the coastal route which was much longer around the point. Since it was "off the beaten path" it was nice to have no cars and absolutely no tourists for a change. We dropped back to the coast and stayed in a tiny hovel of a room in Trogir, a tiny town that had been highly recommended and jam-packed full of tourists about 30 miles up the coast from Split.
The next day we had a short ride into Split, on a side-road full of busy early morning traffic. We passed right by the Split Airport on our way in, where we planned to take a flight in a couple days. We booked an apartment in Split right on the outskirts of the "Old Town" and with the nicest caretaker,Duje, who helped us with tools to get Ville's very stuck pedal off and work out getting bike boxes. We spent a day taking bikes apart, tracking down a cheap dufflebag to check our gear separately, arranging a car big enough to get two giant bike boxes into and walking around the town. It was fine. A lot of the "Old Town" areas of cities of Eastern Europe were blending. They began to all look and feel the same. Except Split was very crowded with tourists; it has an airport AND a giant port for all kinds of ferries and even cruise ships. Packed cities are NOT our bag.
But a good end to a chapter. Not the end of the book, but a pause. A pause before the next chapter. We were picked up by Duje's friend, rode to the airport, dealt with the typical run-around checking bike boxes as one does who booked airline tickets on an airline company that just claimed bankruptcy the week before. At least we were still flying. And then, we had an overnight layover in Frankfurt, Germany, luckily with enough funds to get a hotel and not sleep on the floor or chairs at the airport like we had always done. The next morning at the airport we were randomly asked by a guy if we spoke Spanish. Heck yes we do! And were able to help translate to a woman from Peru stuck at the airport because her flight to Japan was cancelled due to a typhoon. Poor lady, but helped work things out for her before heading on our way to our next long 11+ hour flight. Paying it forwards.
As we began to taxi onto the runway, I stared out the window reflecting on the last few moths of cycling. How being on a bike seat pedaling in high heat and then pouring rain can weigh you down. How the kindness from a woman who does not even share our language, lets us camp in her yard and makes us some coffee in the morning sending us off with a giant bear hug, can make your spirit soar. How simply crossing an imaginary line can change a language, social norms and all the rules. How sharing my meal with cigarette smoke everywhere makes me cranky, but pastries make it all better. How moving far away from your comfort zone brings us closer to truly living. How spending every day in a new adventure with my best friend is the best life I could have ever imagined me living. Over 3,000 miles pedaled, over 23,000 miles total now traveled by bicycle. On to the next chapter...
Until the next post, keep on keepin' on...
K.G. & Ville
In New Zealand on bikes.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson